"Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity..."
Twenty-nine years ago today, most of us were given an education. Our lesson originated in the words of an essay written by Loyd Blankenship, better known at the time as The Mentor.
His essay, "The Conscience of a Hacker" (also known as "The Hacker's Manifesto") reminded hackers of the world that they were outsiders.
I was a kid when I first read Phrack #7, and the essay hit home for me.
I was bored in school, and my parents didn't understand my need to have a computer and a modem. I tinkered with any form of electronics I could get my hands on, and swapping disks full of text files was what encouraged me to leave the house occasionally and make friends. I was constantly told I should focus more on school and less on "computer games."
Yet, I had a thirst for knowledge and a passion for sharing it with like-minded people. While this manifesto reminded me that I was an outsider to most of the populous, it also reminded me that I wasn't alone. I'll forever be grateful to it.
Fast-forward nearly thirty years and many of the people who read The Mentor's essay in 1986 are working security professionals.
They're no longer the outsiders. They're cultural heroes, leaders, and business giants. They're media rock stars, living in the limelight as the world is reminded daily about the serious need for information security, and they're the only ones who can provide it.
"This is our world now... the world of the electron and the switch, the beauty of the baud. We make use of a service already existing without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn't run by profiteering gluttons, and you call us criminals.
"We explore... and you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge... and you call us criminals. We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias... and you call us criminals."
In the years since those lines were written, the telecommunications problems have shifted. Now, the problem isn't the cost of a call, its net neutrality and privacy. Then again, on the goods and services side of things, the problems of the 80s and 90s still exist.
In some cases they've gotten worse as organizations spend millions on DRM and other anti-piracy measures, which block full access to something a consumer has purchased directly. Just ask computer gamers, they know all too well the pain associated with "activation server" error messages.
The nature of over-classification and information management also remains a problem. While we have access to more information in an instant now than we did decades ago, it's still guarded and restricted on many levels. In other words, nearly thirty-years later, seeking knowledge can be viewed as a criminal offense in many cases, no matter the reason.
"Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for. I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto. You may stop this individual, but you can't stop us all... after all, we're all alike."
It's been twenty-seven years since I first read those words, twenty-nine since they were written.
If encouraging curiosity, accumulating and sharing knowledge, keeping an open mind and judging others on their deeds and not their circumstance or looks, or being a hacker means I'm a criminal – then I'll wear that title proudly for the rest of my days.